My current Top 5

My current Top 5

3/21/2010

Best Actress 1978: Jane Fonda in "Coming Home"

Jane Fonda received her second Oscar for her performance as Sally Hyde, an army-wife who starts an affair with a paraplegic soldier and begins to doubt the American war in Vietnam.

This performance is very frustrating because it is hard to ignore that the character of Sally had a lot of potential but both the script and Jane Fonda’s performance reduced her to a thin, underwritten woman that is invincible for most of the time. Sally is never allowed to become a real, three-dimensional person. Everything she does is because of suggestions by others. She only works in the hospital because a friend does it, too. She only starts to see things differently because Luke inspires her to do so. And even when her character goes through a change, it is done in such a rushed, uninteresting way that in the end, Sally hasn’t changed one bit except the fact that she has began an affair. This way, the character of Sally is reduced to nothing else but a boring love interest and Jane’s performance never fights against the weakness of the script but rather even emphasizes it by also investing Sally with nothing else but a seemingly simple-mindedness that does nothing to make her the least bit interesting.

The viewer is supposed to follow Sally’s journey from a loyal housewife to a free-spirited woman but Jane Fonda’s acting always remains the same and she never shows any development in her character. The only thing that changes is her hair. One the one hand, Jane Fonda does a smart choice by staying true to the character and not turning her a 180 degree around the first moment she met Luke which would probably have resulted in an unconvincing characterization. Instead, she always keeps the core of the character but on the other hand, Jane Fonda never allows Sally to develop herself and it seems that everything that could be said and shown about Sally was done in the first 5 minutes and after that, Jane shows us nothing new anymore.

This is also visible in the fact that Jane Fonda keeps the same face and the same line-reading for almost the entire time. When Luke tells her that her husband will probably not come back alive and she follows him to confront him, she plays her anger and her fear in such a sleepy way that you are wondering if she is angry of bored. Again, it actually makes sense because Sally is a very introverted character who wouldn't make a big scene in front of other people but if this is a moving moment, then only because of the situation and not of Jane's acting. It seems that the hollowness of the character prevents Jane Fonda from doing even just one interesting acting choice. Instead, her performance never leaves the unchallenging comfort zone of the script.

Jane Fonda is also completely overshadowed by the two male actors in the movie, Bruce Dern and especially Jon Voight. The main reason is simple: these two actors have interesting, three-dimensional characters. They both have to face their inner demons, they have to make important choices in their own life while Jane Fonda’s only choice is between these two men. Oh, and a different hair cut.

What works about this performance is Jane’s chemistry with Jon Voight. Her shy behavior when she meets him in the hospital, her nervousness when she invites him home for dinner, her passion for him, these parts are all demonstrated well.

The most exciting scene involving Jane Fonda comes almost at the end when her husband threatens her and Luke with a gun. The way she freezes opposite him with her arms hold out to him is the only interesting thing Jane Fonda does in the entire movie. Her complete inability to move or say something underlines the tension of the situation and shows how she is torn between her loyalty to her husband (something that wasn’t shown so far in the movie and again seems like a wasted opportunity to make Sally more interesting) and the fear she is feeling at the same time. Most people would hold up their arms and don’t move when they are threatened like this, but she holds her arms and hands in his direction, to reach him, to comfort him and then she freezes. For one moment, Jane Fonda steps into the foreground and holds her own against Bruce Dern and Jon Voight but only because the script finally offers her something more to do than play Luke’s object of affection.

So, Jane Fonda suffers from the same problem like Dorothy McGuire in Gentleman’s Agreement: she gives an uninteresting performance of an uninteresting character but in Jane Fonda’s case it seems like she didn’t even try to do anything to illuminate Sally at least a little bit. It’s a serviceable performance that serves the scrip well but that could have been much better. For this, Jane Fonda gets

7 comments:

joe burns said...

Good writeup! Is it possible that you would ever give zero Louises? Like Sage does in her rankings?

Fritz said...

Mmh, I don't think so...The thing is, that I am re-viewing Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated performances and when I complain about a performance, I complain about it in relation to an Oscar which is, after all, the highest honor for acting. So, even a "bad" Oscar-nominated or Oscar-winning performance is still "good" on some level because really BAD performances don't get nominated for an Oscar. 0 Luises are for performances from Paris Hilton...

joe burns said...

Oh, okay. So who's profile is next?

Fritz said...

Mmh, I don't know yet...I always decide spontaniously

hey deanie said...

I know I'm late, haha, but I just want to say that I think this performance is marvelous -- she conveys Sally's political awakening with such a quiet beauty that is really, terribly moving. Astonishing work, one of my favorite winners ever.

Fritz said...

Well, you're obviously a big Jane-fan! :-)
But in your review for her performance in "Julia" you don't sound too positive about her work here.

hey deanie said...

Haha, I'm just being hard on her because she (along with Liv Ullmann) is my favorite actress...I guess I judge her work more harshly than I do that of others, you know? I expect so much of her. Her 'ghostly and self-important' is another actress' 'fantastic' - for me, at least. Bahaha. And she's just so phenomenally moving in those last few scenes...gah I hope I explained that okay, haha!